I don't know much about American Football - despite it being shown on Channel 4 in the 80s, the most abiding memory is of the Channel 4 ident with a helmet and my dad shouting 'FOUR FOUR FOUR' and laughing. I can name two players - the Refridgerator (because he's called the Refridgerator) and Rosey Greir (because he wrote a book called Needlepoint for Men). Seeking out any actual coverage possibly involves subscriptions to specialist channels such as Extreme Special Gridiron 4, so aside from being aware of the Superbowl, mainly how big a TV draw it is, my knowlege of 'football' is drawn from teen movies.
So on Friday afternoon, Alan asked me if I wanted to go and see some American Football. At Wembley. 'Um, do you want to go?' Yes. Yes he did. This was a man who, after lots of family holidays, started sporting a Miami Dolphins baseball cap and understands what 'sack the ball' means. 'They're free, as this work event fell through.' I thought why not. I've been to two stadia (Nou Camp and, um, Ewood Park) but never seen any kind of live match - why not break my duck at the national stadium? And it might be fun. I like seeing Alan all enthusiastic about things, and it's a kind of glamorous sort of rugby, is it not?
On Sunday morning, I had a GetLippie makeover. As my lips were being painted with something very red and Givenchy, I was asked where I was heading off to later. 'American football. At Wembley.' Noises of distaste were made. 'It's the most frustrating thing ever. Take a book.' I had one, but decided not to tell Alan. We met up, me feeling like Sarah Palin with lipstick and game tickets in hand, popped to Tesco for food and got the tube. As the tube got closer, the carriage filled up with shirts - some Patriots, some Miami Dolphins ('See that name? He's a good player') and others I didn't recognise. We asked each other whom we should support. Now, not being privy to such useful information as shirt colour, badge and mascot to help me make this blind decision, we went for the Patriots as New England sounded nicer.
Wembley was more crowded than we expected, which was good. After being frisked, learning that a pint costs £4 and chicken dippers and chips £8.50, we settled in to work out what the fuck was going on.
The first thing I noticed was how branded the game is. The leagues and cup competitions for football
football are sponsored, but here - the game was going out on US TV - everything seemed sponsored. The 'fan-cam'. The replays. The player warm-up. The cheerleaders came on to a message saying that they were brought to us by Reebok. I was too far away to see their uniforms (they were as tiny as teenage girls - a testament to the powers of dance training) but there was probably a logo here and there.
Secondly, it felt at times more like a theatrical event than a sports match. When a good play happened, Tekken-style compliments flashed up on the scoreboard. Breaks in play were interspersed with videos of players talking about their least favourite household tasks. During a touchdown, flagbearers came on with huge flags; the video screens directed us to wave the minature versions on each seat. The game kicked off with huge helmet-shaped balloons, pyrotechnics, and the cheerleaders dancing to Calvin Harris; the stage was quickly whisked off, the cheerleaders off-pitch, twinkling pom-poms at the side of the field until there was a Time Out, when they came back again to do a can-can to distract us from the team huddles. Football just has Gary Lineker looking sorrowful and sub-standard pies.
The game itself? Well, I was glad I had Alan there to explain things. With football, the team needs to get the ball in the opposing team's net as often as possible; the rest is just noise. Simple as a potato. I knew the touchdown and the field goals were the aim here, but it didn't appear to just be a case of getting one and carrying it on - there were so many conditions attached to where the ball could go and for how long. I enjoyed watching the tussles (one man went over on his head) and the touchdowns, but the middle part was a bit lost on me. Perhaps I could watch a match on TV, with commentary and close-ups, to get a better feel for it. The atmosphere was great, though. The stadium had a lot of Real Americans watching the game, some with home-made signs ('which is better? Off-fence or De-fence?' 'Shush, you.'), though given that football games usually have the crowd casting aspersions on the sexual habits of the opposing team's captain, it seemed a bit more polite than I thought it would be. Not dispassionate, just lacking in fans shouting things with 'up the arse' and 'when the girl says no, molest her'.
Oh, and the Patriots won 31-7. I wanted Tampa to come back to get the game more interesting, but as the person next to us said, they're reknowned as a fairly bad team. However, they had a better mascot, which is what really counts.